Male gaze

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The male gaze: In the Nude Girl on a Panther Skin (Félix Trutat, 1844) the reclining woman is aware of being gazed upon, by the face of the man at the window of her bedroom.[1]

In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts[2] and in literature,[3] from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer.[4] In the visual and the aesthetic representations of narrative cinema, the male gaze has three perspectives: the men behind the camera, the male characters in the filmed story, and the male spectators of the work.[5][6] Moreover, the female gaze is the conceptual analogue of the male gaze.[7][8]

The concept of the gaze (le regard) was first used by the art critic John Berger in Ways of Seeing (1972), a documentary analysis of the representations of women — as passive objects to be seen — in advertising and as the nude subjects of European art.[9] The feminist intellectual Laura Mulvey applied the concepts of the gaze to critique traditional representations of women in cinema,[10] from which work emerged the concept and the term of the male gaze.[11]

The psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and of Jacques Lacan about scopophilia (the pleasure of looking) are the conceptual and theoretic bases of the male gaze, which proposes that the "primordial wish for pleasurable looking" is satisfied through the cinematic experience of gazing at someone or something considered aesthetically pleasing.[12]: 807  As a way of seeing women and of seeing the world, the terms scopophilia and scoptophilia denote how the male gaze functions in deriving aesthetic pleasure and sexual pleasure from gazing upon something or someone considered beautiful.[12]: 815 


The gaze[edit]

The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre introduced the concept of le regard, the gaze, in Being and Nothingness (1943) wherein the act of gazing at another human being creates a subjective difference in social power, which is felt by the gazer and by the gazed upon person; “by their presence — most forcibly, by looking into your eyes — other people compel you to realize that you are an object for them.”[13] The male gaze is presented, explained, and developed in the essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975) wherein Laura Mulvey proposes that sexual inequality — the asymmetry of social and political power between men and women — is a controlling social force in the cinematic representations of women and men; and that the male gaze (the aesthetic pleasure of the male viewer) is a social construct derived from the ideologies and discourses of patriarchy.[14][12]

The theory of the male gaze is partly based upon the male castration anxiety — because the woman has no phallus, her presence as the sexual Other induces psychic unpleasure in the male subconscious, caused by someone who is not the male Self.[12] To mitigate that psychological unpleasure, the male gaze objectifies women into passive subjects and objects, especially in the representations of women common to the audiovisual media of cinema and television.[12] In response to the on-screen presence of a woman, to the male spectator, "her lack of [a] penis [implies] a threat of castration, and hence [induces] unpleasure", therefore the spectator's male gaze voids the personal agency of the woman by over-sexualizing her femininity.[12]

To avert the fear of castration, the male gaze sexualizes women in two ways: (i) voyeurism-sadism, and (ii) fetishization.[12] Mulvey proposes that in voyeurism-sadism the “pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt (punished with castration), asserting control, and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness”, behaviours more aligned with the narrative of cinema, than the fetishization behaviours of scopophilia.[12] To reduce his fear of castration, the male spectator copes with fetishistic scopophilia, and hyper-sexualizes the woman from a person into a collection of aesthetically ideal female body parts. [12]

Patriarchal functions[edit]

In a narrative film, the visual perspective of the male gaze usually is the sight-line of the cinema camera, and thus is the perspective of the spectator of the film — a heterosexual man who gazes upon the features of the body of a woman.[15] In the male-oriented cinema, the male gaze usually displays the female character (woman, girl, child) on two levels of eroticism: (i) as an erotic object of desire for the characters in the filmed story; and (ii) as an erotic object of desire for the male spectator of the filmed story. Such visualizations establish the roles of dominant-male and dominated-female, by representing the female as a passive object for the active male gaze. The social pairing of the passive-object (woman) and the active-spectator (man) is a functional basis of patriarchy, i.e. gender roles that are culturally reinforced in and by the aesthetics (textual, visual, representational) of commercial cinema that features the male gaze as more important than the female gaze, an aesthetic choice based upon the imbalance of socio-political power between men and women.[12]: 14 [7]: 127 

As an ideological basis of patriarchy, socio-political inequality is realised by way of a value system with which male-created institutions (e.g. the movie, advertising, and fashion businesses) that unilaterally determine what is "natural and normal" in society.[16] In time, the people of a society believe that the cultural hegemony of the artificial values the patriarchal social system, are the "natural and normal" order of society, because men look at women and women are looked-at by men; hence the Western hierarchy of "inferior women" and "superior men" derives from misrepresenting men and women as sexual opponents, rather than as sexual equals.[16]


In the fields of media studies and feminist film theory, the male gaze is conceptually related to the behaviours of voyeurism (sexual pleasure from looking), scopophilia (aesthetic pleasure from looking), and narcissism (pleasure from contemplating one's self) as presented by Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan.[12]: 807  As a way of seeing women, the terms scopophilia and scoptophilia denote the functions of the male gaze in deriving aesthetic pleasure and sexual pleasure from gazing at someone considered beautiful.[12]: 815 


Two forms of the male gaze are based upon the Freudian concept of scopophilia, looking at instead of participating in sexual activity; each form of male gaze — voyeurism and narcissism — shows how women are compelled to assume the perspective of the male gaze and thus view cinema from the sexual, aesthetic, and cultural perspectives of men. In cinematic representations of women characters, the male gaze denies the social agency and social identity of the woman, by transforming her from a person to an object considered only for her beauty, her physique, and her sex appeal, as defined in the aesthetics of the male sexual fantasies common to male-oriented narrative cinema.[12]


The gaze: A male doll of the pew group (1740s)

Two types of spectatorship occur whilst viewing a film, wherein the viewer either unconsciously or consciously engages in the typical, ascribed societal roles of men and women. In relation to phallocentrism, a film can be viewed from the perspectives of "three different looks": (i) the first look is that of the camera, which records the events of the film; (ii) the second look describes the nearly voyeuristic act of the audience as they view the film proper; and (iii) the third look is that of the characters who interact with one another throughout the filmed story.[12]

The perspective common to the three types of look is that looking is the active role of the male, while being looked-at is the passive role of the female.[12] Upon that patriarchal construction, the narrative cinema presents and represents women as objects of desire, wherein women characters have an "appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact". In movie business practice, the pretty actress is never meant to represent a decisive female character whose actions directly affect the outcome of the plot or impel the events of the story, but, instead, portrays the female character as visual support for the male character (the protagonist), by "bearing the burden of sexual objectification" of being “the girl”, a condition psychologically unbearable for the male character; hunk is unequal to hero.[12]

The male gaze and scopophilia function alike in that the gazed-upon woman always is a passive subject of observation; the aesthetic pleasure is in looking at someone as a desirable object of beauty.[12] As an expression of sexuality, scopophilia is the pleasure (sensual and sexual) derived from looking at sexual fetishes and photographs, pornography and naked bodies, etc. The experience of pleasurable viewing is in two categories: (i) voyeurism, wherein the viewer's pleasure is in looking at another person from a distance, and he or she projects fantasies, usually sexual, onto the gazed upon person; and (ii) narcissism, wherein the viewer's pleasure is in self-recognition when viewing the image of another person;[12] the voyeurism and the narcissism respectively translate into the object libido and the ego libido of psychoanalysis.[17]

Moreover, Mulvey said that for women to enjoy the cinema made by and for men, they must identify with the male protagonist and assume his male-gaze perspective of people and the world.[12] In the genre of action films, the dramaturg Wendy Arons said that the hyper-sexualization of the female characters reduces the fear of castration posed by active, violent women; hence "the focus on the [woman's] body — as a body in ostentatious display of breasts, legs, and buttocks — does mitigate the threat that women pose to 'the very fabric of . . . society', by reassuring the [male] viewer of his male privilege, as the possessor of the objectifying [male] gaze."[18]


The female gaze and the male gaze are conceptually similar in function, wherein a woman assumes the objectifying male perspective when viewing other people and herself from the perspective of a man with social power.[7] The male gaze is a manifestation of unequal social power, between the gazing man and the gazed-upon woman; and also is a conscious and subconscious social effort to develop gender inequality in service to a patriarchal sexual order. In practise, the perceptions of the male gaze can be ambiguous; thus a woman who welcomes the sexual objectification of the male gaze might be perceived as conforming to societal norms established for the benefit of men, thereby reinforcing the power of objectification of the male gaze upon the person of a woman; or she might be perceived as an exhibitionist woman manipulating the sexist norms of the patriarchy to her personal benefit, by controlling the functions of sexual objectification inherent to the male gaze.[7]

In the essay “Is the Gaze Male?” (1983), E. Anne Kaplan said that "men do not simply look; their gaze carries with it [the] power of action and possession which is lacking in the female gaze".[19] That although "the gaze is not necessarily male (literally), but to own and activate the gaze, given our language and the structure of the unconscious, is to be in the masculine position".[19] From that perspective, cinematic female characters can practise the male gaze upon male characters and transform them into passive objects in subordinate social positions; but that in doing so, the female character likely loses her characteristics of traditional femininity.[19] Therefore, that women are masculinized to a degree when practising the male gaze demonstrates the rigidity of gender roles and of gender characteristics in the visual representations of heterosexual romantic relationships in cinema and in television.

In the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975), Mulvey applies the Lacanian perspective that an ego libido (the pleasure in gazing drawn from a desire to identify with the object of the gaze) prevents the male spectator from objectifying the male characters, because “man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like.”[12] Concerning the subjects of gender and sexuality, the rigid definition of the male gaze permanently assigns women characters to the passive role of an object of desire.[12] In describing the relationships among the characters of the novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys, Nalini Paul said that when the character of Antoinette gazes at Rochester, and places a garland upon him, she makes him appear heroic, yet: "Rochester does not feel comfortable with having this role enforced upon him; thus, he rejects it by removing the garland, and crushing the flowers."[7] From the male perspective, a man possesses the gaze because he is a man, whereas a woman possesses the male gaze only when she assumes the role of a man, and thus possesses the male gaze with which to objectify other people, by gazing at them as would a man.

Concurring with Nalini Paul's description of the female gaze as "a mere cross-identification with masculinity", Eva-Maria Jacobsson said that the boy toy adverts in magazines for adolescent girls are evidence that the female gaze exists, that women possess the capability of dehumanizing men into objects of desire. That despite Mulvey's contention that the gaze is a property of one gender, or if the female gaze merely is an internalized male gaze, remains indeterminate: “First, that the 1975 article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ was written as a polemic, and, as Mandy Merck has described it, as a manifesto; so I had no interest in modifying the argument. Clearly, I think, in retrospect, from a more nuanced perspective, [the article is] about the inescapability of the male gaze.”[7]: 128  Moreover, in the power dynamics of human relationships, the gazer can gaze upon members of the same gender for asexual reasons, such as comparing the gazer's body image and clothing to the body and clothing of the gazed-upon person.[7]: 127 [20]

In the novel Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Brontë, the male gaze is a contested subject, because of the different ways in which the narrator of the story and the characters in the story each assume the male gaze in telling the story of the star-crossed lovers Catherine and Heathcliff. As the narrator of and as a character in Wuthering Heights, Lockwood is "the narrator-as-voyeur defending himself against the threat of the feminine by objectifying a woman, by telling her story, [by] writing it down in his diary, and [by] seeking, in this oblique way, to make it — and her — his own."[21] In the course of the story, Catherine practises the female gaze upon Heathcliff and other people, and, “in assuming the role of spectator, she seeks a ‘masculine’ position that, because she is a woman, redefines her [either] as a ‘monster’ or [as a] ‘witch’.”[21] "Through Heathcliff, then, Wuthering Heights suggests that the woman's gaze, as an object of male perception, is simultaneously feared and desired; desired because it offers [him] the possibility of [recovering a] lost wholeness, feared because it insists that [he] the subject is not whole, that [his] wholeness has, indeed, been lost."[21]

Artistic nudity[edit]

In the first version of Susanna and the Elders (Tintoretto, 1556), aware of being gazed upon, Susanna looks directly at the spectator of the painting.
In the second version of Susanna and the Elders (Tintoretto, 1555–1556), Susanna is looking at her reflection in a looking glass; and, like the gazing voyeurs, Susanna, too, gazes upon her female Self.[22]
In the female gaze version of Susanna and the Elders (Artemisia Gentileschi, 1610) the naked Susanna is distressed at being gazed upon by two old men, neither of whom is her husband.

In the production of art, the conventions of artistic representation connect the objectification of women by the male gaze to the Lacanian theory of social alienation — the psychological division that occurs from seeing one's self as one is, and from seeing one's self as an idealized representation. In Italian Renaissance painting (13th c.–16th c.) especially in the nude-woman genre, that division in perception arises from being both the viewer and the viewed, and from seeing one's self through the gaze of other people.[23] In the documentary series and book Ways of Seeing (1972), the art critic John Berger identified, explained, and analysed the forms and functions of the sexual objectification of women in the arts and in advertising, by emphasizing that men look and women are looked-at as the subjects of an image.[9] For the purpose of art-as-spectacle, men act and women are acted-upon according to the social norms of spectatorship determined by the conventions (artistic and aesthetic) of objectification that artists have not transcended.

In the Renaissance genre of the the nude, the woman who is the subject of the painting usually is aware of being looked-at, either by other male characters in the painting or by the male spectator gazing at the painting in which she is the subject from the male perspective.[24] The different perspectives of the male gaze and the female gaze are seen in comparisons of three versions of the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders, about a married woman falsely accused of adultery by two voyeurs who discover each other in the act of spying on Susanna as she bathes; Tintoretto painted two versions of Susanna and the Elders (1555–1556) in the 16th century, and Artemisia Gentileschi painted Susanna and the Elders (1610) in the 17th century.

In Tintoretto's first version of Susanna and the Elders (1556), Susanna is aware of being looked-at, and in turn "looks back at us looking at her." In Tintoretto's second version of Susanna and the Elders (1555–1556), Susanna is looking at her reflection in a looking glass, and thus joins the elder men in the painting and the spectator of the painting in the act of gazing at her female Self.[22] In each of Tintoretto's male-gaze versions of Susanna and the Elders, Susanna is nonchalant about being looked at whilst naked, which calm demeanour is in great contrast to the obvious discomfort Susanna shows at being looked at whilst naked, in Artemisia Gentileschi's female-gaze version of Susanna and the Elders (1610).[25]

Female gaze[edit]

The cultural analyst Griselda Pollock said that the female gaze can be visually negated; using the example of Robert Doisneau's photograph Sidelong Glance (1948) Pollock describes a bourgeois, middle-aged couple viewing artworks in the display window of an art gallery. In the photograph, the spectator's perspective is from inside the art gallery. The couple are looking in directions different from that of the spectator. The woman is speaking to her husband about a painting at which she is gazing, whilst her distracted husband is gazing at a painting of a nude woman, which also is in view of the spectator. The woman is looking at another artwork, which is not in view of the spectator. The man's gaze has found someone more interesting to gaze at, thus ignoring his wife's comment. Pollock's analysis of the Sidelong Glance photograph is that: "She [the wife] is contrasted, iconographically, to the naked woman. She is denied the picturing of her desire; what she looks at is blank for the spectator. She is denied being the object of desire, because she is represented as a woman who actively looks, rather than [as a woman passively] returning and confirming the gaze of the masculine spectator."[26]

In "Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator" (1982) the academic Mary Ann Doane said that Freudian psychoanalytic theory discounted the importance of the female spectator, because, as a woman, the female spectator is “too close to herself, entangled in her own enigma, [and so] she could not step back, could not achieve the necessary [intellectual] distance of a second look.”[27] That the gazes (male, female, queer) imply a "pleasurable transgression" of looking, which greatly depends on the proximity of the spectator to the spectacle, the person being gazed upon.[27] By way of the intentional creation of a space (intellectual, emotional, psychological) between the subject (spectator) and the object (screen), the male gaze perpetuates the "infinite pursuit of an absent object."[27] Such a mental distance is denied to the female spectator on account of either the "masochism of over-identification or the narcissism entailed in becoming one's own object of desire", which contradicts Mulvey's proposition that the male gaze of the cinema camera does not objectify men and male characters.[27][12] Therefore, in order to enjoy the picture show, female spectators have two options: (i) to identify with the "transvestite metaphor" of the passive female characters created by the male gaze of the cinema camera; or (ii) to identify with the masochistic male gaze of the cinema camera, in defiance of the patriarchal definition of femininity as personal closeness.[27]

In "Watching the Detectives: The Enigma of the Female Gaze" (1989), the academic Lorraine Gamman distinguished the female gaze from the male gaze by the power of the female gaze to displace scopophilia as a way of perceiving the world, which creates the possibility of multiple perspectives, because "the female gaze cohabits the space occupied by men, rather than being entirely divorced from it." The female gaze does not appropriate male "voyeurism", because the purpose of the female gaze is the disruption of the phallocentric power of the male gaze, by providing other modes of looking-at someone.[28]

In "Networks of Remediation" (1999), the academics Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin said that the male gaze coincides with "the desire for visual immediacy" — the erasure of the visual medium to allow uninhibited interaction with the person portrayed — which feminist film theory identified as the "male desire that takes an overt sexual meaning when the object of representation, and therefore [the object of] desire, is a woman."[29]: 79  To that end, Bolter and Grusin proposed the term hypermediacy, a type of female gaze that draws the spectator's attention to the artistic medium and to the process of mediation present in a work of art. Hypermediacy "is multiple and deviant in its suggestion of multiplicity — a multiplicity of viewing positions and a multiplicity of relationships to the object in view, including sexual objects." As a type of female gaze, hypermediacy disrupts the myopic and monolithic perceptions of the male gaze by offering different perspectives for perceiving a person.[29]: 84 

The photographer Farhat Basir Khan said that the female gaze is inherent to photographs taken by a woman, which is a perspective that negates the stereotypical male-gaze perspective inherent to "male-constructed" photographs, which, in the history of art, have presented and represented women as objects, rather than as persons. [30] The female gaze was the subject of the Feminigraphy exhibition of the works of women photographers curated by Khan, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, in January 2017.

The feminization of the male gaze included the Medusa theory, which proposes that women who practise the female gaze are dangerous monsters, because men both desire and fear the female gaze that objectifies them in the same way that the male gaze objectifies a woman into an object of desire.[31] In "Medusa and the Female Gaze" (1990) Susan Bowers' examination of the Medusa theory begins when the woman becomes aware that she is being gazed upon by a man, and then deconstructs and rejects his objectification of her person.[31] The most important aspect of the male gaze is its subdued, unquestioned existence, which is disrupted by the analogous existence of the female gaze, with which women acknowledge themselves as the object of the male gaze, which they counter with the female gaze that objectifies a man.[31] Bowers' example is the illustration of Sex Murder on Ackerstrasse, by George Grosz, which shows how, even without a head, the woman depicted in the drawing can threaten neither her companion nor the male spectator with her own subjectivity, because her decapitated body symbolises how men have dealt with women by relegating them to visual objectivity.[31] To subjugate the female gaze to the norms of heterosexual patriarchy, as in the Greek myth of Medusa, sexual objectification requires the decapitation of women to deprive them of the female gaze that can objectify a man.[31]

Matrixial gaze[edit]

The academic Bracha Ettinger criticized the male gaze with the matrixial gaze, which is inoperative when the male gaze opposes the female gaze, thus both perspectives constitute each other from a lack, as Lacan defined "the Gaze".[32] The matrixial gaze does not concern a subject and its object existing or lacking, but concerns "trans-subjectivity" and shareability, and is based upon the feminine-matrixial-difference, which escapes the phallic opposition of masculine–feminine, and is produced by co-emergence. Parting from the latter work of Lacan, Ettinger's matrixial gaze perspective is about the structure of the Lacanian subject, itself, which is deconstructed to produce a feminine perspective with a hybrid, floating matrixial gaze.[33]

Moreover, E. A. Kaplan said that the male gaze constructs a falsely hypersexualized feminine being in order to dismiss the sensual feminine being to which all people are connected through their innate relationship to a mother or a maternal figure.[19] That "the domination of women by the male gaze is part of men's strategy to contain the threat that the mother embodies, and to control the positive and negative impulses that memory traces of being mothered have left in the male unconscious"; that the mutual gaze, which seeks neither subordination nor domination of the looker or the looked-at, originates in the emotional relationship between a mother and her child.[19]

Oppositional gaze[edit]

In the essay "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators" (1997)[34] bell hooks argues that Black women are placed outside the "pleasure in looking" by being excluded as subjects of the male gaze.[34] Beyond the exclusivity of sex/sexuality as signifiers of difference, bell hooks addresses through oppositional gaze theory how the power in looking is also defined along lines of race.[34] From her interpretation of Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975),[35] hooks said that "from a standpoint that acknowledges race, one sees clearly why Black women spectators, not duped by mainstream cinema, would develop an oppositional gaze" to the male gaze.[34] In relation to Lacan's mirror stage, during which a child develops the capacity for self-recognition, and thus the ideal ego, the oppositional gaze functions as a form of looking back, in search of the Black female body within the cinematic idealization of white womanhood.[34]

As hooks states, the black female spectator identifies "with neither the phallocentric gaze nor the construction of white womanhood as lack," and thus, "critical black female spectators construct a theory of looking relations where cinematic visual delight is the pleasure of interrogation".[34] This pleasure of interrogation stems from a reaction to cinematic representation which "denies the 'body' of the black female so as to perpetuate white supremacy and with it a phallocentric spectatorship where the woman to be looked at and desired is white".[34] Through a perspective which accounts for signifiers of difference that lie outside the exclusivity of previously perpetuated lines of sex/sexuality, hooks is able to curate an entirely organic pleasure in looking, not associated with the scopophilia Mulvey originally outlined.[34][12]

In the context of feminist theory, the absence of discussion of racial relations, within the "totalizing category [of] Women", is a process of denial which refutes the reality that the criticism of many feminist film critics concerns only the cinematic presentation and representation of white women.[34] In the course of being interviewed by hooks, a working-class Black woman said that "to see black women in the position [that] white women have occupied in film forever . . .", is to see a transfer without transformation;[34] therefore, the oppositional gaze encompasses intellectual resistance, and understanding and awareness of the politics of race and of racism via cinematic whiteness, inclusive of the male gaze.

Queer gaze[edit]

In extending the theory of the male gaze beyond the paradigm of heterosexual patriarchy, concerning only the sexual relationships between men and women, the academic Karen Hollinger proposed the queer gaze in the cinematic representation of the lesbian gaze,[17] which is a look mutually extended between two women; the look makes neither woman and both women the object and the subject of an objectifying gaze.[17] The absence of a heterosexual male character enables the lesbian gaze to dismantle the cultural hegemony of the patriarchy, which is perpetuated with and by the male gaze.[17] Lesbian gaze theory proposes that cinematic lesbians are "simultaneously both [the] subject and [the] object of the look, and consequently [subject and object] of female desire".[17] In the "ambiguous lesbian cinema . . . the sexual orientation of its female characters is never made explicit, and viewers are left to read the text, largely, as they wish"; that narrative ambiguity prevents heterosexual male viewers from fetishizing the lesbian identity, by not demarcating between the platonic relationships and the plutonic relationships that exist between women.[17]

Conversely, the academic Danielle Lefebvre said that for trans women there is a degree of social and sexual affirmation found in everyday manifestations of the male gaze;[36] especially "when the male gaze is affirming, and one’s identity [as a trans woman] is validated; [the male gaze] may be a motivator to continue to conform, to consistently be correctly gendered, and [so] avoid harm for not conforming".[36] Manifestations of the male gaze can be psychologically affirming for trans women whose gender performance of femininity gains male acceptance when objectified into the feminine by male spectators.[36]

In a cinematic narrative, the male gaze is a "safety valve for homoerotic tensions" that redirects and projects sexual tensions onto the female characters of the story; thus the male gaze negates the homoeroticism inherent to male-oriented genres of cinema, such as the action movie, the buddy adventure comedy, and the crime movie.[37] The academic Patrick Shuckmann said that the homoerotic gaze reframes the masculine objectification of women as the sexual Other to the male character, someone other than a man upon whom to redirect the homoeroticism inherent to relationships between male characters.[37]

Conceptual flexibility allows the homoerotic gaze to visually represent women as objects of desire and as objects of displaced sexual desire.[37] The functional ambiguity of the homoerotic gaze contrasts with the male gaze which is limited to using women to validate heterosexuality (in a context that subverts heterosexuality with homoerotic images) thus the male gaze de-eroticizes relationships between male characters.[37] In an action movie two men are in a fistfight, indicating that the homoerotic pleasure of close physical contact is manifested and repressed through physical violence, yet each man reserves the male gaze as his release of the psychological tension inherent to unresolved homoeroticism.[37] In a buddy movie the male characters acknowledge the homoerotic attraction that exists between them, by way of allusive jokes, yet each man actively denies the homoerotic attraction by idealizing the heterosexual male-female relationship that awaits at adventure's end.[37] In a crime movie, a policeman and a criminal are homoerotically obsessed with each other, which attraction each man acts upon by continually seeking the company of the other,[37] yet the story usually includes a complementary female character whose plot and thematic purpose is to affirm the social primacy of heterosexuality.[37]

Effects of the male gaze[edit]

In A Test of Objectification Theory: The Effect of the Male Gaze on Appearance Concerns in College Women (2004), Rachel Calogero shows that the male gaze can have detrimental psychological effects upon the self-esteem of women, by inducing internalised self-objectification, which are psychological stresses that lead to increased occurrences of body shame and of poor mental health.[38] For most women, a physical interaction with a man does not, in itself, induce a negative mental state or internalised feelings of self-objectification, but the encounter usually is prelude to a woman being subjected to the male gaze of the man with whom she is interacting.[38] The psychological stresses upon a woman are in enduring the objectification of the male gaze, which physical scrutiny eventually induces a worsened state of mental health and internalised self-objectification, consequent to concerning herself with the unrealistic aesthetic ideals of the gazing male, concerning ideal physiques and body shapes for women.[38]



The academic Camille Paglia presented a feminist rejection of the intellectual concepts proposed in the male gaze: "From the moment feminism began to solidify its ideology in the early Seventies, Hitchcock became a whipping boy for feminist theory. I've been very vocal about my opposition to the simplistic theory of "the male gaze" that is associated with Laura Mulvey (and that she, herself, has moved, somewhat, away from) and that has taken over feminist film studies to a vampiric degree in the last twenty-five years.

The idea that a man looking at or a director filming a beautiful woman makes her an object, makes her passive beneath the male gaze, which seeks control over Woman by turning her into mere matter, into meat — I think this was utter nonsense from the start. [The male gaze] was formulated by people who knew nothing about the history of painting or sculpture, the history of the fine arts. [The male gaze] was an a priori theory: First there was feminist ideology, asserting that history is nothing but male oppression and female victimization, and then came this theory — the Victim model of feminism — applied wholesale to works of culture."[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hoy, Pat C.; DiYanni, Robert (1999-11-23). Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. McGraw-Hill Companies,Incorporated. pp. IV. ISBN 978-0-07-229045-5.
  2. ^ "Feminist Aesthetics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2015. Assumes a standard point of view that is masculine and heterosexual. . . . The phrase 'male gaze' refers to the frequent framing of objects of visual art so that the viewer is situated in a masculine position of appreciation.
  3. ^ That the male gaze applies to literature and to the visual arts: Łuczyńska-Hołdys, Małgorzata (2013). Soft-Shed Kisses: Re-visioning the Femme Fatale in English Poetry of the 19th Century, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, p. 15.
  4. ^ Eaton, E.W. (September 2008). "Feminist Philosophy of Art". Philosophy Compass. Wiley-Blackwell. 3 (5): 873–893. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00154.x.
  5. ^ Devereaux, Mary (1995). "Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The "New" Aesthetics". In Brand, Peggy Z.; Korsmeyer, Carolyn (eds.). Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780271043968.
  6. ^ Walters, Suzanna Danuta (1995). "Visual Pressures: On Gender and Looking". In Walters, Suzanna Danuta (ed.). Material Girls: Making Sense of Feminist Cultural Theory. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 57. ISBN 9780520089778.
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    Also available as: Mulvey, Laura (2009), "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", in Mulvey, Laura (ed.), Visual and other pleasures (2nd ed.), Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire England New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 14–30, ISBN 9780230576469. Pdf via Amherst College. Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine

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Further reading[edit]